Bosnia losing many young people to emigration over poor education, work prospects

Arijana Pirusic, 23, an architecture student, speaks during interview with Reuters in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina November 18, 2021. Picture taken November 18, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

SARAJEVO/PRIJEDOR, Bosnia (Reuters) - Architecture student Arijana Pirusic is one of some 23,000 young people planning to leave Bosnia in search of better education or work opportunities, part of an annual brain drain from their troubled homeland.

A new survey by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) found that 47% of Bosnians - or 269,000 - aged 18-29 are thinking of going abroad temporarily or for good, unhappy with a lack of jobs, poor public services and endemic corruption.

Pirusic, 23, now completing a master's degree in architecture at Sarajevo University, will spend her final semester at the University of Stuttgart in Germany under the European Union's Erasmus student exchange programme.

But she also plans to look for work abroad.

"There is no perspective for young architects here, it all comes down to a minimum wage," said Pirusic.

She said all spheres of life in the small Balkan country were prone to corruption, and that young people could hardly find jobs without political or family connections.

Economic growth, reform and investment in Bosnia have been hampered by lingering ethnic divisions since its 1992-95 war, along with widespread graft, nepotism and organised crime.

The unemployment rate among Bosnians aged 15-29 was 34% in 2019, according to International Labour Organization figures.

An UNFPA report earlier this year found that an average of 50,000-55,000 people - mostly skilled workers and professionals, many with relatives abroad - leave Bosnia every year. It warned that if such an exodus continued Bosnia's population could drop to under 1.6 million by 2070 from about 3 million now.

"We now know that 23,000 of those 50,000 are young people aged between 18 and 29," said John Kennedy Mosoti, the UNFPA resident representative in Bosnia.

"That should alarm every country, that should alarm every segment of society, that should alarm policymakers...(and) business people," he said.

Indeed, companies across Bosnia increasingly complain about a lack of skilled workers. Some of them, such as Cromex, a producer of metal parts in the northern town of Prijedor, are offering vocational training and more competitive salaries.

"We are struggling to keep our workers here," Cromex general manager Enes Pehlic said. "We cannot stop people going abroad even after they complete the training, although not everyone will leave."

Stefan Kotroman, 17, a Cromex trainee who is grateful to be able to learn the welding trade, is an example of the latter.

"If you find your way here and learn your trade, there is no need to leave the country," Kotroman told Reuters.

(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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